Like something out of the DaVinci Code, there are seven ancient monasteries known as the Sacred Line of Saint Michael the Archangel which stretch between Ireland and Israel in perfect alignment.
According to legend these sanctuaries represent the blow St. Michael dealt to the devil and sent him to hell.
Mont Saint Michel in France; the Sacra of San Miguel in Val de Susa; and the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo in the Gargano are not only aligned along the same path but are the same distance from each other. On the day of the Northern Hemisphere's Summer Solistice the Sacred Line aligns with the sunset.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
The line begins in Ireland, on a desert island, where Archangel Michael would have appeared to Saint Patrick, to help him liberate the country from the devil. Here stands the first monastery of the line, that of Skellig Michael, Michael’s Rock.
As far back as pagan times in 1400 B.C. there was a settlement at this site. Then the monks of St. Fionan established their monastery there. They lived a simple life, using stone beehive shaped huts to shelter them from winds coming in from the Atlantic. They were constructed not to allow a drop of water to leak inside.
Archaeological digs have found that about twelve monks lived there on a permanent basis until the 13th century when they were moved to the mainland, Ballinskelligs. After this it became the most westerly sacred site in Europe; at the end of an ancient pilgrimage line that is known as the Apollo/St. Michael axis since it's believed to predate Christianity.
The line then heads south and stops in England on St. Michael’s Mount, a Cornish islet which, at low tide, joins the mainland. Here, St. Michael is said to have spoken to a group of fishermen.
People were living here during Neolithic times (4000 to 2500 B.C.). Flint arrowhead gave been recovered and those who came here used it only as short-term camp since it was surrounded by a marshy forest.
It's believed there was a monastery at this site as early as the 8th century, and Edward the Confessor gifted it to the Benedictine order of Mont Saint-Michel in the 11th century. Pope Gregory granted indulgences to pilgrims who came to the site. It served as a priory of that abbey, a secular chapel and convent throughout the years.
In 1659, the Mount was sold to Colonel John St. Aubyn. As of 2021, the Lords St. Levan, his descendants maintain their seat there.
In 1727 a seaport flourished there after the harbor was improved, but in 1755 a tsunami caused by the Lisbon earthquake hit the Cornish coast. The seas rose six feet in ten minutes and continued to rise and fall for five hours. There was a great loss of life and property along the coastline.
The village rebuilt itself and in 1821 it reached its peak population of 221 persons. By the mid-19th century the village emptied and many of the building were demolished, and at the end of the 1900s, a tomb was discovered inside the domestic chapel. Inside were the remains of anchorite.
In 1954, Francis Cecil St. Aubyn, 3rd Baron St. Levan gave most of St. Michael's Mount to the National Trust.
Mont Saint Michel, France
The sacred line then goes on to France, on another famous island, in Mont Saint-Michel, also one of the places in which St. Michael has appeared. The sanctuary is comprised of 17 acres located 0.6 miles off the coast of Normandy, near the mouth of the Couesnon River.
A Gallo-Roman stronghold existed there since the 6th century, and even then it was considered mystical. In 709, the Archangel appeared to Saint Aubert, urging him to build a church in the rock. The works began immediately, but the Benedictine abbey was not fully built until the year 900.
In reward of their support to William the Conqueror in 1067, the monastery was gifted with property in England, which included a small island off the coast of Cornwall, where they established a Norman priory named St. Michael's Mount of Penzance.
For hundreds of years it was popular as a center for pilgrims, until the Reformation and by the time of the French Revolution there were few monks left. It was closed and converted into a prison to hold cleric who opposed the regime. The prison was closed in 1863. It was restored during the late 19th century.
The Germans occupied it during WWII, using it as a lookout post. American troops entered Mont Sain-Michel on August 1, 1944. As of 2017, only 30 people live there.
Sacra Di San Michele, Italy
About 1000 kilometers away, in Val de Susa, the fourth sanctuary arises, the Sacra di San Michele also known as St. Michael's Abbey. The very same straight line links this sacred place to the rest of the monasteries dedicated to Saint Michael.
During much of its history it was under Benedictine rule, but in present day it is entrusted to the Rosminians. It served as an inspiration for Umberto Eco when he wrote his novel, The Name of the Rose.
The construction of the abbey began around the year 1000, and throughout the centuries, new structures have been added to the original building. The Benedictine monks also added an inn, because this holy place was on the way of the pilgrims that traveled through the Via Francigena.
Some historians suggest that a military stronghold existed on the site of the abbey during Roman times. Later the Lombards built a fort against the Franks.
The oldest records connected to the abbey is that of William, a monk who lived there during the late 11th century. He sets the date of the construction of the abbey between 966 to 999.
A crypt beneath the church was built in the late 10th century. Tradition is that St. Giovanni Vincenzo, a hermit, built it under direction of the Archangel Michael to whom he was devoted. The construction is like many churches and monasteries dedicated to St. Michael which are located in hard to reach places.
By 1622, the monastery fell into decline, and remained abandoned for over 200 years. In 1835, King Charles Albert asked Antonio Rosmini via the Pope to repopulate it and restore the edifice.
Santuario Di San Michele Archangelo, Italy
Moving another thousand kilometers in a straight line, one reaches Puglia, where an inaccessible cavern has become a sacred place: the Sanctuary of Saint Michael. Its story goes back to the year 490, when St. Michael appeared to San Lorenzo Maiorano. This was his first appearance in Western Europe.
The shrine is the oldest in Western Europe dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and pilgrims would stop there since the early Middle Ages as they made their way to Jerusalem.
The legend tells of the three apparitions of Michael, usually when there was impending war or invasion.
Archangel Michael of Panormitis Monastery, Greece
From Italy, the archangel’s footprints reach the sixth sanctuary. This one is in Greece, on the island of Symi. This monastery houses a three-meter-high statue of the Archangel, one of the largest in the world. November 8, is the largest religious celebration on the island which commemorates the Feast Day of the Monastery of Archange Michael.
The exact historical date of the construction of this church and monastery, remains unknown but some suggest that it was built around 450 AD during the Turkish domination. It is believed to have been built over the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the pagan god Apollo.
It is known for certainty that the existing church underwent a major renovation from 1777 to 1873 to bring it to the standard that is in existence today.
Stella Maris Monastery, Israel
The Sacred Line ends in Israel, at the Stella Maris Monastery or the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Haifa. This place has been revered since antiquity, and its construction as a Christian and Catholic sanctuary dates back to the 12th century.
Another Carmelite monastery of the same name (Monastère Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel in French) is reserved for nuns and is located higher up on Mount Carmel.
In the 12th century, during the Crusader rule of the region, groups of religious hermits began to inhabit the caves of this area in imitation of Elijah the Prophet.
The Carmelite Order eventually built a church and the oratory to the Virgin Mary in her aspect of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, (Latin: Stella Maris).
The present location of the monastery is directly above the grotto where the prophet Elijah is said to have lived. The monks first cleared the site of the ruins of a medieval Greek church, known as "the Abbey of St. Margaret" and a chapel, thought to date back to the time of the Byzantine Empire.
This new church was seriously damaged in Napoleon’s 1799 campaign. Sick and wounded French soldiers were accommodated in the monastery, and when Napoleon withdrew, the Turks slaughtered them and drove out the friars.
In 1821, Abdullah Pasha of Acre ordered the ruined church to be totally destroyed, so that it could not serve as a fort for his enemies, while he attacked Jerusalem. The masonry was used to build a Abdullah Pasha's summer palace and a lighthouse, which were sold back to the Carmelite order in 1846.
The current church and monastery, built under the orders of Brother Cassini of the Order, was opened in 1836. Three years later Pope Gregory XVI bestowed the title of Minor Basilica on the sanctuary, and it is now known "Stella Maris", meaning Star of the Sea. For much of the 20th Century it was occupied by the military, first the British, and later the Israeli, but at the end of their lease it was handed back to the Order.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer